Photo Credit: Megan Thompson
Under the influence of music and fueled by the heart, Utah rockers, The Used, are firmly rooted in vulnerability and have drawn from melancholic real-life experiences to curate musical wizardry throughout their seventh studio album, ‘The Canyon’. Reaching the state of warm embrace while consistently on the path of edification with ever-shifting dynamics at their zenith, The Used stand tall with impassioned lyricism and raw, discordant instrumentation that tugs at your heartstrings with angelic delicacy. I caught up with Bassist, Jeph Howard, to discuss the creative process behind ‘The Canyon’, remaining mindful and centered while on tour, the synergy amongst the band, tattoos, and more.
First and foremost, congrats on the release of your seventh studio album, ‘The Canyon’. Tell us about the creative and recording process. What inspired the band to bring another album to life?
You know, this record was written and recorded a little bit different than normal. Our record that we released previously, ‘Live & Acoustic at the Palace’, was just a full acoustic show we recorded. Through that release, we finally got to meet and play with some backup singers and incorporate some strings that we always wanted to incorporate. We had the chance to expand the music rather than simply have us work on the backup vocals ourselves. So, when we went into this record, ‘The Canyon’, we had it in mind that we wanted to bring the people that we worked with on the acoustic release onto this record. And even before that, we were jamming and writing on this record for at least two years off and on…
Wow. You guys were working on ‘The Canyon’ while you were out touring for your 15th Anniversary Tour?
Yeah. We would all fly in somewhere, together, to gather all of our ideas, have a writing session and jam through them. During the 15th Anniversary Tour, we would even jam our ideas for ‘The Canyon’ through soundcheck to practice them and come up with more ideas which was great. We had an extra amount of time to write this album and we saved all of our ideas and revisited them after tour.
Photo Credit: Ryan Muirhead Photography
You know, it seems as though there is a synergy amongst Bert, Dan, Justin and yourself that is very fluid and has led you all to evolve both individually and collectively. Not solely as musicians, yet as human beings as well. Are there certain qualities that you admire about your bandmates that have inspirited your growth?
Totally. That’s really great that you said that, that makes sense. Ever since Justin has joined the band, he has really added a different take on music; a different feel on music. Between his ideas and the ways that he plays, it is both different and similar enough that it really helps with the writing process how we just bounce ideas off each other and come up with new ways to do things.
Even going into the recording process, I have wanted to work with this Producer, Ross Robinson, for my goodness, I would say about fifteen years. The way our crew records music and thinks about music is very similar to the way that I do. I feel that a lot of music these days is missing soul. The energy, that vibe, that heart; you know what I mean? There is energy that seeps underneath it all that can get lost at times in the recording process.
Absolutely. Throughout ‘The Canyon’, it is palpable how emotive and rich in sincerity the approach was toward recording the album. It is pleasantly staggering to hear the intro, “For You”, and feel the pain within Bert’s voice and the overall expression.
Yeah, there is a lot involved within this record. It is very heavy. The soul is completely there. From my perception, it seems as though musicians use computers today as a crutch instead of using it for what they should be used for; a tool. The music shouldn’t be written by the computer, it should be written with the computer. On this record, we veered away from using the computer as much as we could. It is just more natural all the way around. Instead of using a click-track, we just jammed together while the drums were being recorded. It felt more natural than having a computerized metronome telling us the timing that we had to play, you know?
Totally. Given how much the industry and the world have changed since The Used began back in 2001, you have remained grounded in your truth.
You know, we’re not trying to be anyone; we just are. It definitely shows.
It does. Do you incorporate any wellness practices while on tour or any superfoods that aid in maintaining mindfulness?
Yeah. I lead a Vegan lifestyle and so does our drummer, Dan. Actually, half of our crew is Vegan as well. Half of our bus is pretty health-conscious which is solid. It helps so much, you don’t even know. I feel great every single day which is pretty awesome. I think that is really important to maintain your health while you are on tour. It’s easy to forget what you are doing and why you are doing it while you are actually out there. Being on tour every day can be repetitive in some ways, and you can get lost in the idea of it. I think that simply bringing consciousness back into the experience is really helpful.
Absolutely. Speaking of tour, you guys are gearing up to head out on tour with Glassjaw for a month through the states, I would assume that creating a setlist from your discography can be a daunting task given the breadth. Give us the scoop on what we can expect to hear this time around.
We are going to play a lot of new stuff, but it’s going to change throughout because the record comes out on the first day of tour and we don’t want to bombard everybody with playing a bunch of new songs that nobody knows yet. We will be playing at least two new songs for the first couple days of tour and we are going to continue to sneak some in along the way. We are for sure going to be playing stuff from all of the older records as well.
Incredible. Let’s talk tattoos. Tell us about the meaning behind one of your favorite personal pieces and the artist that brought the piece to life. You have quite a massive backpiece, correct?
I do! My back-piece was tattooed by my buddy, Vic Back, who owns a shop in Salt Lake City by the name of 27 Tattoo. He is a great friend of mine who has come on tour with us before. We have known each other for over ten years. He is a very talented tattoo artist. I grew up with a lot of foreign films and Japanese movies that really got me into tattoos and the whole traditional Japanese style of tattooing. I do love horror movies as well, and my back-piece is a mix of horror movies and the Japanese style of art.
Symbolizing your roots. Do you have any tattoos that you intend on adding to your collection in the near future?
You know, I have been tattooing myself lately! I haven’t really planned any of them out and have just messed around while I’ve been at home. I have a piece on my ribs that I need to get finished. It was tattooed by Nikko Hurtado at Black Anchor Collective in Hesperia, California.
We know Nikko. He is one of the absolute greatest in the game.
Oh yeah, he is incredible. I just haven’t gotten it finished yet. It is a Japanese crab that is called a Heikegani that has a Samurai face on the back of the crab. Heikigani’s are real crabs that also have a great ancient origin according to Japanese Folklore.
Interesting! As you have toured extensively with a variety of musicians and have been making music for quite awhile, do you have any words of wisdom for a kid just picking up an instrument or a mic with the intention of starting a band, what would you say?
Keep it from the soul. Keep it from the heart. Mistakes are human, and mistakes are important. You can’t learn if you aren’t making mistakes. Computers, for instance, are lacking that aspect. Computers don’t make mistakes. If you listen to music or even look at anything that seems perfect, it looks fake; it feels off. Humans make mistakes even when they are perfectionists, there are always some errors and you can feel that. And with music, I think that mistakes serve to make the soul of music. There are songs that you can listen to on the radio in which the singer will be just slightly off key, and that part makes it feel so real. I just want musicians and people in general to remember that. Even when you’re playing live, mistakes mean so much and make it a real show.
Absolutely, and actually feeling that distortion effect. For instance, let’s journey back to Nine Inch Nails over their 1989 debut studio album, ‘Pretty Hate Machines’. You could feel that distortion effect through the radio.
Totally. It’s incredible. I love that stuff so much.
Photo Credit: Megan Thompson
Rumor has it that you are a video-game junkie. What systems and games are you taking along on the road with you these days?
I have so much stuff. I have a legit problem! I haven’t grown up since I turned fifteen-years-old. I have a Nintendo Switch with me right now and I usually take a Playstation 4 (PS4) along with me on the road. Those are my top two choices. On this tour, I’ll be rocking the Switch the most. I’m still playing Zelda which is great. There is also a Nintendo Wii game called Xenoblade Chronicles which is one of my favorite games of all-time that has a second version coming out in December!
You are certainly in tune with your inner child! Last but certainly not least, do you have anything else that you’d like to bring to our attention pertaining to ‘The Canyon’ and any closing messages for your fans?
‘The Canyon’ is real. It is a real record that has a lot of duality. On one hand, the first part of the record is about a friend of Bert’s that ended up dying and the second half is Bert’s take on how it all happened. For example, you can either look at The Grand Canyon as a big hole or two sides coming together…..
Totally. Canyons ebb and flow.
Oh yeah, definitely. They do. There are several meanings to every song and I personally like when people create their own perception of the songs. But, there are very heavy things and experiences throughout this entire record. This is the most excited that I have ever been about a record. I feel so strongly about this record. I am so happy with the musicianship, the songs, the arrangement, the heart; everything. It’s a very exciting feeling and I am so glad that everyone is able to hear this.